The Problem with Paranormal “Certification”


There are several different groups (or more correctly individuals with websites claiming to be official sounding groups) offering so-called “certification” in paranormal investigation.  I have no problem with people taking these courses if they’ve thoroughly researched the provider and understand what they’re getting (or not getting as the case may be) – after all, I’m a strong believer in the free market and people’s freedom to spend their money as they see fit.  However, I believe some of these “certification” courses imply more than they can possibly deliver in terms of a real “certification” and some use marketing practices I consider often border on unethical.  Caveat emptor, buyer beware, strongly applies when it comes to the paranormal “certification” or “degree” business.

In the professional word, “certification” generally involves meeting standards of specialized training, testing, and experience for a particular field.  These standards are developed by nationally and internationally recognized certification agencies.  I know of no professional certification standard which is developed by one person.  Instead, a board of experts in the field jointly develops a set of standards which members or directors of the certification agency must approve.  Once standards are in place, a similar process is used to keep the standards up-to-date.  The important points are certification standards come from a recognized organization and are developed by a group of recognized experts in the subject.

What do we have with all the paranormal “certifications” and “degrees?”  First, there is no nationally or internationally recognized certification organization for paranormal studies.  Instead, there are just various groups offering “certifications” and “degrees” for sale.  This leads us to the second issue – all of the paranormal “certifications” offered for sale that I know of were developed by one person and it’s that person who’s generously offering to sell you his or her so-called “certification” or “degree” course.

I find it very unethical some of these “certification” sellers also plaster their websites with warnings to the public not to allow investigators on their property unless they hold XYZ certification.  Wow, so no one should consider a researcher competent unless he happens to hold the certification you sell?  No conflict of interest there at all . . .

Another tactic I’ve seen lately is paranormal “certification” sellers comparing their courses to the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) Field Investigator (FI) examination.  This is a poor comparison.  First, MUFON is an international membership organization with a forty year history.  As such, they have more in common with a professional certification agency than one guy or gal cranking out “certifications” from his or her home office.  Second, MUFON does not claim the FI examination confers a “certification.”  Nothing in the FI Manual or FI examination says “certification.”  Instead, it’s more of a standardization manual for the FI position.  It provides a way to make sure every FI is operating from the same standard foundation when it comes to procedures.  Third, the FI manual, now in its fifth edition, was developed by a committee of researchers, not just one person.  Finally, the FI Manual does not offer an opinion on UFOs or aliens.  Instead, as mentioned, it provides standard operating procedures on how MUFON wants FIs to conduct an investigation.  It’s a procedures manual, not an explanation of UFOs and aliens.

What would be necessary for the comparison to hold to the paranormal field?  First, a nationally recognized “ghost” group would need to exist instead of hundreds of local groups who share almost no communication with each other.  Second, this national group would need to form a committee to develop agreed standards.  Third, the membership or directors of the group would have to approve the standards.  Fourth, a method to teach these standards to members and examine them for competence would have to be developed.  None of this exists, and considering the paranormal field often seems to have more internal conflict than the UFO field, I frankly doubt such an organization will ever exist.  However, until it does, comparing XYZ group’s “certification” course to the MUFON FI examination does not hold.

Again, I have no problem with someone spending their money on these courses if they understand what they’re getting.  I’ve seen a couple of these courses which appear to offer some generally good information and food for thought.  However, the person taking the course must understand it is not a true certification course.  These courses are for informational purposes only and no matter how highfaluting sounding the title or the group (even if they call themselves a “college”), they do not confer any sort of real “certification” or “degree” as those terms are understood in the professional or academic world.

My personal opinion is one can learn all he or she needs to know in order to research the paranormal by reading several of the very well written books available today from recognized researchers in the field.  Instead of spending $70 to $100 or more on a “certification,” you can invest that money in an excellent reference library where you learn not just one person’s opinion, but the views of several researches.

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6 Responses to “The Problem with Paranormal “Certification””

  1. Well said! I recently spent some time discussing this very issue at considerable length. Long story short, I was personally attacked by “members” from one of these set-ups! Just goes to show you.

    Very good points regarding MUFON as well – kudos!

    • Seems to be the order of the day Tom. When someone is not on the right side of things they attack. It happened to us on the certification issue. I have a tendency not to take attacks well and throw nucs in return.

  2. Very well stated Steve , and on a topic that has been the target of some very heated discussions for me in the past ! Our Affiliation as President of the Floeida chapter of United paranormal International has been on this band wagon for months , and are seeking ways to change what is acceptable, as well as educate people in what they are getting with these degrees in a box courses !
    I am going to post a link to this article today, so eveyone may read it and learn what it is we are speaking of.

  3. Thanks for the comments, gentlemen.

    Tom, reading some of the postings on other forums from purveyors of these “certifications” and “degrees” defending their courses as legitimate certifications is what prompted me to write this piece. It seems when others point out these courses provide no real “certification” or “degree” as those terms are understood in the professional and academic settings, the purveyors of these courses simply dig in their heels and attempt to defend their made-up “certifications” and “degrees” even more instead of just admitting their courses are for informational purposes only.

    Again, I have no problem with people spending their own hard-earned money as they see fit. I just think they should clearly understand what it is they’re buying — which is not a real “certification” or “degree.” It may be the best information in the world, but it’s still not a real “certification” or “degree” no matter what the people selling them claim. My problem is not with content or offering training, it’s claiming the training confers more than it really does.

  4. Steve, very well written article. This is a point of interest on a website I help moderate called and I think we have run into some of the same “certification” organizations that you allude to in this article. I invite you to join a discussion we have going on at the site on this subject. I was just researching MUFON as one organization in particular uses this a point of argument for certification and your article saved me several hours of research 🙂

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